The History of the Colquhouns

Rossdhu 1

The village of Luss is at the heart of the Colquhoun clan lands and has been for over 600 years. But the origin of the clan goes back even further to the first half of the 13th century. On the banks of the River Clyde lies the small town of Old Kilpatrick. There is a legend that St Patrick was born here. Just as "kirk" means church, so "kil" means small church or cell. Alternatively, it may be that Patrick was baptised here. Legend has it that the site on the main road near the present day church marked as "St Patrick's Well" was where a spring gushed out of the ground at his baptism.

Close to Old Kilpatrick were lands that carried the name Colquhoun. The Earl of Lennox granted these lands probably in 1241, to Humphrey of Kilpatrick. It is thought that it was his grandson, Ingram, who decided to change his title to Ingram of Colquhoun. To this day the hills behind Old Kilpatrick are known as the Kilpatrick hills and on the high ground above is a loch called Loch Humphrey.

Dunglass Castle, now a ruin on a rocky outcrop on the River Clyde, was an early stronghold of the Kilpatrick family. The name means, "grey fort". Its position commanded the movement of shipping on the river. In the 15th century the castle fell into disrepair, and Sir Humphrey Colquhoun built a mansion on part of the ruins.

Meanwhile, the Colquhoun family had come into land on the banks of Loch Lomond. In about 1368 Robert, the 5th of Colquhoun,  married the daughter of the 6th Laird of Luss. Her real name is unknown to history, so she is known only as "the fair maid of Luss". More importantly, she was also Godfrey's heiress. So when Godfrey died, her husband Robert inherited through her the Luss Estates along the west bank of Loch Lomond.

The first home the Colquhouns built there, probably in the 16th century, was Rossdhu Castle. All that remains today is a single ruined fa├žade, but it can be seen to have been a solid and easily defensible four-story building. Among the visitors who stayed here was Mary, Queen of Scots.

In February 1603, the most notorious event in the history of the clan occurred when the Colquhouns and the MacGregors met in bloody battle in Glen Fruin. Although virtually deserted today, Glen Fruin was populated by perhaps as many as 200 farms. The rich fertile Colquhoun lands were too much of a temptation for the MacGregors, whose inhospitable mountainous lands to the north and east had led them into a lifestyle which involved raiding their neighbours, stealing their livestock and burning and looting homes.

Because of these repeated raids of the MacGregors and their allies (especially the MacFarlanes) the King had given the Colquhoun clan chief authority to arm his clan in self-defence. There are many conflicting accounts about the immediate cause of the battle. What we do know is that about 400 MacGregors and their supporters set off towards Colquhoun territory. There was no road then so they went westwards, possibly through the gap in the hills at Tarbet, and made their way south along the shores of Loch Long. They approached Glen Fruin along the valley of the Fruin Water. The Colquhouns, forewarned, marched up Glen Luss and then turned south down the valley of the Auchengaich burn. When they entered Glen Fruin, they found that the MacGregors had gotten there before them. They had divided their forces into two and were able to trap the Colquhouns between them.

With their Clan chief, Alistair MacGregor, attacking from the front and his brother John (who was killed in the battle) from the rear, there was no escape. The Colquhouns were driven from the field, back to Rossdhu. Many Colquhoun followers were captured and slaughtered. For months afterwards, possessions plundered from the Glen were found being sold to neighbours. At the head of Glen Fruin, a stone commemorates those Colquhouns who died, perhaps as many as 140. It was said that only two MacGregors were killed, but this is almost certainly too low a figure.

In the latter part of the 18th century, Sir James, the 23rd of Colquhoun, decided to build a new home in the latest classical style within sight of Rossdhu Castle. The result was Rossdhu House, originally a two-storey square building without the present central portico. Early in the next century, his son, also James, added the two wings and a portico supported by two pairs of columns to create the house that we see today. The Colquhoun Clan chiefs lived here until 1985. It was then leased to the Loch Lomond Golf Club which has refurbished and restored it to its former glory and turned it into its club-house and headquarters..

The Sir James who built the original Rossdhu House was also responsible for the building of the nearby town of Helensburgh. It is an example of an 18th century planned town and gets its name from Sir James's wife, Lady Helen Sutherland. The town's coat-of-arms, which can still be seen over the old town hall, is a combination of the coats of arms of the Colquhouns and the Sutherlands.

This was not the end of Sir James's building initiatives. In 1771, he had the early chapel at Luss demolished and replaced with a new church. This, in turn, was replaced in 1875 by Sir James Colquhoun as a memorial to his father, also Sir James the 28th of Luss, who drowned in a boating accident. Just before Christmas 1873 Sir James Sr and a group of his keepers had rowed across to Inch Lonaig ("Deer Island") in the middle of the loch. They had planned to bring back a deer for the Christmas celebrations for the family and their workers. As they approached Luss a sudden storm blew up, the boat overturned and all were drowned. It is said that there were people on shore who heard the shouts for help and thought that they were whoops of celebration. Today a monument to the men stands in the churchyard.

Inside the church, many of the windows are in memory of various members of the family. In the Laird's Loft can be seen hatchments bearing the coats of arms of former clan chiefs placed there after their death.

Just down the road from the church and village of Luss, each summer since 1875, the Luss Highland Gathering has taken place. Since the first year of the games the Chief of Clan Colquhoun has been the Chieftain of the Games, a tradition that continues to the present day.